Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not So Safe

Have you ever done something and then thought, “What was I thinking?”

Yep -- me, too!

(If you said no to that question, you are in denial.)

I had a passport challenge recently.  My current visa for Bahrain is only a tourist visa and good for 2 weeks.  I have to renew it frequently.  I was going to be leaving for Saudi Arabia (that is another blog) and thought I had enough time that I would not need to renew it before I left.

However my visa was one day short and did not realize it until the day before it expired.  I called up the “Mr. Fix It” for D’s company and arranged to meet him at the Bahrain office to sign the documents and give him my visa so he could get an extention.

Unfortunately, I did not take into account it was morning, the busiest time of the day for traffic in that area of Manama.  I could not find a parking place anywhere so he had to come down to the street and meet me.  I parked in a taxi lane hoping to not get kicked out.

Sharing the street with vendors with carts.

The Taxi Stand in the shadow of the Rolex dealer.

Other than feeling a bit boxed in, it all went fine and my passport made it’s way to being renewed.  

My next commitment for the day was to drive to a printer and help with a book being published by the American Woman’s Association.  The person I was meeting had given me directions coming from the opposite way and it was clear to me that the road I was on in Manama lead directly to the printer.

It would be much shorter if I just went down the road I was already on.

Road leading to the printer.
With my GPS turned on and directions coming from the phone, I took off for the printer.  However pretty soon it was apparent I had finally found the area of Manama that I did not want to be in.

Black flags of the political opposition were flying all around on the buildings and beside the streets. There was Arab graffiti on all the buildings.

I did not stop to take pictures.

I did not stop to look around.

I did not even turn my head and look at any of the people on the sidewalks who were clearly looking at me.

I drove as steady and fast as I could out of the area.

The blonde lady from the US knew she was in the wrong place.

This was history repeating itself.

Once, over 30 years ago, D and I were driving through Los Angeles. He asked me to give him driving directions to get to the downtown area as directly as I could. He wanted to see the tall buildings. Looking at buildings is often part of any vacation we take.

This was before MapQuest or Google Maps.  I had a paper map and I buried my head in the map giving him directions – two blocks then turn right, one block then turn on this street, so on.

D stopped at a stop light and asked me (my head was buried in the map), “Brenda, look on your map. Is there an area called Watts located close to where we are?”

I carefully studied the map and answered, “Yes, 2 blocks to our right.” I looked up to see burned out cars and buildings that looked like they had been blown up in a war.

For those of you are too young to know, there was a huge riot in LA in the area called Watts.  We were in the very heart of Watts.

We carefully locked our car doors and drove off as quickly as we could.  Two young kids in a new car with Kansas plates was a tempting target and we were getting lots of stares from people on the sidewalk.

I had that same tight feeling in my gut as I drove through Manama on my way to the printer.  I tried to think of what a great story it was going to be, but all I could think about was all the grief my son was going to give me when he found out about this adventure.

I survived again and I will have more adventures.  But, I have definitely seen the “not so safe” side of Manama.


Sorry there are not many pictures for this blog.  I am sure you understand. ☺

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rain in the Middle East

Today I am not in Bahrain.  I am in Saudi Arabia (SA) securing my Iqama.  An Iqama is residence permit that allows me to go to Saudi with D. His office for this area is in Al Khubar, SA, just across the causeway from Bahrain.

There are several reasons I might need or want to go to SA.  If D has a problem, I could go and help him.  Or, the best reason is we want to go diving in the Red Sea off the western coast of SA.  (yippee) Another benefit of having my Iqama is that I can attend meetings of the American Woman’s Association in Al Khubar and meet the ladies living here.

There are some great photos on this site.

To complete my Iqama process, I will stay here in Al Khubar for a week (in a hotel) while the Saudi government processes my application.  The Iqama process was very complicated and detailed.

Prior to this trip to Khubar, I had already spent 2 months working on the process. There were two physicals, one in the US and one here in Al Khubar. While I was back in the States for the first physical, my passport and the results of that physical (along with extensive blood work), a multipage form and several other documents were submitted to the Saudi consulate.  After that first application was approved, they issued a permit for me to come to Al Khubar and apply for the Iqama.

Working on my Iqama is exciting, BUT THE BIG NEWS is that it rained in Bahrain.  We have an engineer from Virginia staying in our flat in Bahrain while he is finding a villa to move into.  He sent me a picture of our balcony with ¼” of rain!  Woo Hoo!

This is the first rain I have seen since May.

The chairs on our balcony have big (water proof) cushions.  When DT sent me this picture of water draining out of one of the cushions, I almost fell out of my chair laughing  He has finally found a practical use for the bidets in all our bathrooms. I think he has cushions draining in all four bidets.

Putting the bidet to good use.

Here I am with DW getting ready to go into Saudi.  We are wearing our abayas.  Women have to be covered up at all times in public in SA.

Getting ready to enter SA.
I was very excited to have the opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia.  I have known only a few people who have visited Saudi. It is a very unique destination. However, it was a bit of a let down when the first site we had of Saudi Arabia was a MacDonald’s restaurant.
My first view of Saudi Arabia.
Our husbands driving on the causeway.
Al Khubar is a much bigger city that I thought and so far we have not seen any areas that look old or run down. Our hotel is wonderful and the food is GREAT.

View from the back seat of downtown. Women don't drive in SA so our husbands are in the front seat driving us into SA. 
Typical row of older buildings.
Employee parking lot is all sand.
View from D's office.
Orchids in my hotel.
Last night we were invited to have dinner in the home of one of D’s architects from the office.  It was lovely and exceptionally interesting. We met his wonderful wife and two daughters. All of the people here are welcoming and friendly. This family was exceptional and it was a memorable evening.

On the way home, IT WAS RAINING with lightning and thunder.  Typically it only rains for about one week a year here so the water drainage is not as good as we might have in the US.  The water was quite deep on most of the roads.
The first day we were here, DW and I discovered a new grocery store down the street from our hotel.  It was probably the nicest grocery store I have ever been in.  It is called a Hyper Mart because they also sell all kinds of things including clothing.

The amazing thing about this store was that the selection was so in depth for some items.  There was an entire wall of honey, one aisle of bar soap and a huge display of toothpicks in every imaginable design or color.

Tooth picks of every variety.
Whole cakes 
Pieces of cake.
Tea pots.
More tea pots.
Bar soap.
Feta cheese. 
More feta cheese. I am not sure what I am going to do when I go back the US.  The feta cheese over here is better than anything I have ever tasted in the States.  Saudi feta is also my favorite when I am shopping in Bahrain. Now I can see why.  Obviously they love feta cheese.

Baking flat bread.
You can find all kinds of services in SA. This building offers skin care, laser treatments, plastic surgery and obesity care. With all the sweets and cakes they sell, they have an obesity problem in Bahrain and SA. You can find very few sugar free foods or drinks.
I think they are trying to make it perfectly clear this is a family entrance to this restaurant.  Women can only enter through the family entrance for most restaurants and banks.

The family entrance to this restaurant is off to the right.  Many restaurants the family (women) entrance is hidden or behind the building. And, sometimes it is hard to find. 
So far, it is a very enjoyable week and SA is nothing at all what I expected. However, neither was Bahrain. So I guess all my preconceived ideas of the Middle East need to go out the window.

Our driver parked on the sidewalk when we went to the clinic for second physical exam. Because DW and I are women, we had to have a driver everywhere we went. It was nice because we would not have been able to find our way around.
View from one side of the balcony for our hotel room with rush hour traffic heading home.
Construction is not fast in this area.  D says this is the main road through Al Khubar. It has been under construction for over two years.
Today I am in search of a Starbucks Coffee Shop.  We have seen them as we have been driving around so I know we can find one close to the hotel.  I want to buy a mug from SA.  I hope they have SA mugs.  I buy one in every country I visit.  It makes for a great collection of memories. There will definitely be some good memories of Saudi Arabia.

I think I will go on Google Maps and plan a trip to Starbucks.  Another adventure! Woo Hoo!


Here is a video that was taken on the dash board of a man who is just driving around Al Khobar very early in the morning before there are people or cars on the roads. He does not take you down any of the narrow roads in the older part of the city. He goes from the suburbs to the city and along the major arteries.

In the US we have a drug store on every corner but in the Middle East there is a Mosque on every corner. There are lots of traffic circles and speed bumps along the way.  This is all very normal for SA and Bahrain so you can get a sense of what it is like to go on the roads -- BUT WITHOUT THE CRAZY TRAFFIC.  When there is traffic, it is very dangerous.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back in the Sand Box

I am finally back in Bahrain, “the sand box” as D puts it.

Unfortunately for me, this time I don’t seem to be flawlessly flowing back into Bahrain time.  I have spent 3 nights awake when I should have been asleep.

Before you send me an email with all the tricks on how to avoid jet lag, I have already tried them all.  REALLY!

In Florida, I was decorating and getting a condo ready so D and I can stay there. Our lovely daughter BSB is expecting a baby the end of January or beginning of February.  I am planning on being there from Christmas until the end of February so we decided to purchase a condo on the East Coast of Florida.
Hopefully this is the last bathroom I will paint myself.  Not fun, but the color turned out awesome! I am taking my own picture in the mirror. This picture will be used to remind myself why I need to make sure I have the hired painter putting on the right color.
The decorating was work, but visiting with BSB was GREAT FUN.  We shopped, talked and took pictures of “the bump.”
The little bump!

My camel toy and Randy's first toy, the turtle.  They were having a lot of fun.   LOL
Brittany researched stroller's for a couple of months before selecting this one.
Our grandchild's first camouflage. He will be all ready to go hunting with Dad.
For me one special part of the trip was being there on Halloween. I have not been around large groups of kids on Halloween since we built a house in the woods and BSB went off to college. It was great fun this year.
This looks crazy, however it was even more crazy than it appears.  
On the airplane trip back to the ME, I had a very surprising sunset shot out the window of the airplane.  As we were going over Kuwait, the sun was setting with a blaze of color on the horizon.  It is not an excellent quality photo, but something I will always remember.

My flight path returning home went right over Kuwait.
The most unusual sunset shot I have made.
So, I am back in the saddle.  Hot breakfast every morning for D and healthy meals every night.  Last night I cooked my first lamb.  It was not difficult but I think I will try a different recipe next time.  This one was with pomegranate and a bit sweet for our taste.  
My first try at cooking lamb.

You never know, I might become a cook yet. . . Ah, no way. Just not in my DNA.



Added treat for you, here is the first sunset at our new condo that is on the East Coast of the US.  Not bad.